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Subject: "All that glisters is not gold..." rss

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Mitch Willis
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Kathleen
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Overview
Masters of Venice is an economic game for 2 to 5 players set in Renaissance Italy. Frank DiLorenzo is the designer and the game was released by his company, R&R Games, just a couple of months ago (May 2009). This seems to be sort of a different direction for DiLorenzo and R&R, as they’re more well known for party games and lighter games but make no mistakes:Masters of Venice is a hardcore economic Euro-game. Players take on the roles of merchants in Venice with the purpose of acquiring the most victory points, primarily accomplished through the accumulation of wealth. This can be done in a variety of ways, including stock manipulation, fulfillment of guild orders, and buying/selling commodities...and there are officials who, for the right price, can help in each area. There are lots of things going on in this game as far as mechanics go, such as bidding, role selection, simultaneous action, variable phases, commodity speculation, stocks, and even pick-up & deliver. Our games (4 & 5 players) thus far have played in the 2.5 hour range...but I’d say it averages more like 30 minutes a player once you get the rules down.



Out of the Box
Masters of Venice comes in a mid-size two-piece box and for price point (less than $25 on-line), you get a lot of bang for your buck. Upon opening, you’ll find a one-piece mounted game board, 5 mounted peg boards (1 for each shop), 16 plastic pegs, 5 plastic pawns, 5 player dials, 6 character cards, 21 guild orders, 70 stock certificates, 15 rumor counters, 6 favor counters, numerous ducat counters of varying denominations, 10 wooden player disks, 90 wooden resource cubes, a wooden gondola, a gondola marker, and a cloth bag, along with a rulebook. Overall, the quality of the components are solid with one exception: the plastic pawns are reminiscent of the cheap pawns you’d find in Pachisi-type games found in a dollar store. The components, aside from said pawns, add to the Venetian theme. The rule book does a fair job of explaining things and comes with several pictures to illustrate the rules...however there are several ambiguities that could’ve used a bit more detail.



Set Up
Set up can take a few minutes, but can go by in a reasonable amount of time if other players chip in. Players choose their colors and take the appropriate pieces, along with 150 ducats, 1 random resource cube, and 1 random stock. The pegs are placed in the 40 ducat slot for each stock/resource price and in the 2 slot for orders. Two cubes are randomly drawn for each of the 4 docks and 1 for each shipping office with the resource price for each drawn cube pegged down 1. The rumors are randomly placed face-down on the non-bid canal spaces and 2 favors are randomly placed in the churchyard. The character cards, ducats, and stocks are placed nearby the board.



Game Play
Masters of Venice consists of 16 rounds. The first, fifth, ninth, and thirteenth rounds are all bidding rounds and each are followed by three action rounds. During a bidding round, you take your player dial and select the number of ducats you’ll bid for turn order. This determines a couple of things: 1) The turn order for the next 3 rounds, and 2) The character role you’ll have for those next 3 rounds. Whatever you bid you pay to the bank; the highest bid will be first in the turn order and will get to choose his/her character first, followed by the next highest, and so on. The player with the lowest bid automatically takes the Gondolieri character card. Ties in bidding are broken in favor of the player with the most stock certificates. Depending upon the amount you bid, you may be able to raise or lower the number of orders for a particular resource.

During action rounds, the Gondolieri will move the Gondola up one space on the canal/turn track and take the rumor there if present. Then the players will once again take up their dials, this time selecting the building/action they will visit/take this turn. The only caveat is that they cannot stay in the same place for two consecutive rounds. Then each player reveals their dial and moves to their building of choice and, in turn order, takes the appropriate action (NOTE: some buildings have actions that are shared actions while others are individual actions only).



Endgame
The game ends after the 16th turn. Players will add up their ducats, rounding up to the nearest 100, and receive 1 VP per hundred ducats. You also add up the ending value of all of your stock in the same way, also receiving 1 VP per hundred ducats worth of stock. You’re penalized if you have any unfulfilled guild orders (-2 for each) and if you have any leftover resource cubes (you lose, in ducats, 50% of the final value of any cubes in your possession). The player with the most VPs wins; ties are broken in the order of the most cash first, followed by the most stock value.



Buildings
Below is a short description of the buildings you can visit in the game and the action that accompanies them:

Market: Visiting players only can buy and/or sell any 1 resource cube at its current value. If you choose to buy and sell, the resources must be different. Increase the price 1 peg for each respective resource bought/sold.

Church: Visiting players only can buy 1 of the 2 face up favors; with a favor, a player may increase orders for any resource of their choosing by the numbers shown on the tile during a future turn.

Shipping Offices: There are two different shipping offices, North & South. Visiting players in each will claim the random cube at the office and then draw 4 random cubes from the bag to distribute evenly among the 4 docks. For each cube drawn, that resource’s price will be decreased 1 peg. For each player at a shipping office, a player with stock in that specific office will receive 10 ducats a share as a dividend.

Docks: A shared action area; each player visiting the docks, in turn order, can select 1 dock from which to buy goods. Then the rest of the players will get a shot to buy any leftovers from a single dock. Increase the resource price by 1 peg for each cube bought.

Shops: A shared action area; each player visiting the shops, in turn order, can select 1 shop in which he can sell resource cubes for double their market value. Then the rest of the players can sell at a shop of their choosing. A dividend will be given to each stockholder of the receiving shop, in the amount of 10% of the total transaction, per share owned. For each cube sold, the price and stock of that resource is increased by 1 peg while the orders for said resource is decreased by 1; if there are not enough orders for a resource, you cannot sell it. Note that the majority stock owner can raise and lower the resource price and orders for that particular shop.

Stock Market: A shared action area; visiting players, in turn order, may buy and/or sell up to 3 shares of stock (you can’t buy and sell the same share). Then the rest of the players have the same opportunity. For shares bought, that commodity’s stock increases 1 peg total, no matter how many you buy; for shares sold, that commodity’s stock value decreases 2 pegs per share.

Guild Hall: A shared action area; visiting players, in turn order, may fulfill guild orders by turning in the resource cubes their order(s) display and then may draw another guild order. Then the rest of the players may follow suit. For the first fulfilled order, you get 3 VPs, for the second you get 4, third gets 5, and each successive order brings you 6. For each resource cube you deliver, the orders decrease by 1 peg; if there are not enough orders available for a resource, you cannot fulfill your order.



Roles
Below are short descriptions of the character cards and the bonus that each confers:

Gondolieri: Moves the Gondola one space forward on the canal/turn track and picks up any available rumors (rumors may be used in future turns to move any peg on the displayed shop 1 space, up or down); may also, in one of the following three action rounds, flip the gondolier marker and either choose to be first in the turn order for that turn or go first in one of the shared action buildings.

Guild Master: At the Guild Hall, may draw two orders and choose which one to keep; may also return any one order to the bottom of the deck.

Harbor Master: At the shipping offices, in addition to the free resource at the office, the harbor master takes one random cube from the bag.

Tax Collector: Gets an extra dividend any time a player (including himself/herself) does an action that initiates dividends even if he/she does not own that stock.

Thief: At the docks, the thief may steal one resource cube at the dock they choose to buy from.

Trader: At the Market, the trader may buy and/or sell up to two resource cubes at market value; the trader may also return one resource cube to the bag in exchange for any one resource.



Special Occurrences
Just a couple of notes: If a stock value goes above 100, then the stock splits and players with that stock gain 1 VP per share, and the share price is cut in half (rounded up). If a resource price goes above 100 ducats, then the Doge declares price controls and moves that resource’s price back to 40, after payouts. If an action would occur that would take a resource price below 5, the price stays at 5 and orders for that resource increase 1 peg; stock shares can never go below 5 ducats.



Observations
Masters of Venice is a game I’ve been awaiting with a sense of both anticipation and trepidation. After reading some previews, as well as the rules, it appeared to be a game that I, as well as our group would like; however at the same time, it seemed like it could also have a huge hit or miss factor. Three or four turns into our first game, I really thought it was gonna be a miss. We all seemed pretty confused and some of the stares my friends were giving weren’t indicative of having a good time. We were having a hard time coming to grips with the pegging, in addition to a couple of rules ambiguities...in short, we didn’t know what we were doing. However, we stuck with it and, a couple of turns later, the game began to click and we began to get a better idea of what to do. Our scores were low that first game but, after some rules clarifications, our next 2 games went much smoother and we’ve really enjoyed it. This is a game I think you need to give at least a couple of plays before you make a final judgment.

This game is a pretty heavy economic game that’s highly interactive; just about every action taken will affect something and some one. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the game, as stock values and resource prices rise and fall, along with orders, and you must decide how to best take advantage of each situation. There’s a deductive element to the game as well...in order to maximize your potential earnings, you’ll need to successfully predict where your opponents are going each round; since several actions are shared, a good guess can lead to what amounts to "stealing" a turn every now and then.

There are multiple paths to victory as ducats, stocks, and guild orders can all yield significant points. As in many games, I’d suggest somewhat of a balance is best. In our first game, we pretty much ignored stocks and concentrated on guild orders and, as a result our scores were low. In our last game, I concentrated more on stocks and did very well at it, but didn’t pay enough attention to guild orders and came up short as a result.

While buying low and selling high is always common sense, you also want to buy in a way that drives up the values of your stocks, hopefully where you can split ‘em for VPs. Buying bunches of cubes at the dock when they are cheap are like money in the bank; they’re worth more than double what you pay when selling at the shops, but with a role like the Guild Master, they can also be easily converted to VPs at the Guild Hall via orders. When trying to fulfill guild orders or when planning on a big sale at the shops, keep a sharp eye on the orders for those particular resources; use your bidding, majority opportunities, as well as favors and rumors to make the appropriate adjustments.

Turn order can be huge in this game, particularly though in the later rounds. The order in which you buy/sell shares at the stock market, sell resources in the shops, buy resources at the docks, and turn in guild orders can have a profound effect on the game and can actually be the difference between winning and losing. Stocks can split just before you were going to buy shares, orders can run out just before you were going to sell a resource or turn in a guild order, and someone can buy the last resource you needed at the dock just before your turn. And, in 5-player games, if you’re last in turn order it’s possible to get shut out of the docks, and possibly missing out on drawing new guild orders since they can run out. So if there’s an action you desperately need, don’t skimp on bidding for turn order. In this respect, the Gondolieri is not as useless as he might first seem; used wisely he can have a huge impact on turn order, albeit just for that one round.

There are plenty of opportunities for screwing over your opponents in this game as well...you can be downright nasty if you choose to do so. You can use rumors and bidding to actually lower orders if you see someone hoarding a resource, for either guild order fulfillment or a planned trip to the shops. You can also dump stock to devalue another holder’s share of that same stock; sold stock devalues 2 spaces for each share sold and can be devastating to a player with multiple shares late in the game.

The most common complaint I’ve read about the game is that it’s "fiddly"...and this seems to revolve solely around the constant pegging of the resource prices, stock prices, and orders. I can’t disagree, but I can say that it gets easier, the more you play...and with multiple players, there’s always plenty of help in moving the various pegs. In our last game, pegging went without a hitch and seems to becoming second nature to us now.

While the game would appear to me to scale well, I’ve only played thus far with 4 and 5 players. All the games we’ve played were very tight score-wise. I suspect that 4 players is probably the sweet spot, but the 5 player game was very competitive in that there was even more of a fight for resources and stocks, and we ran out of guild orders. I suspect that it would play just fine with 3 though and I’ve read from a couple of different sources that it plays OK with 2 as well.

I will mention one caveat about the game...I wouldn’t recommend playing this game without the player aid that the designer uploaded here on BGG: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/41932. There is so much going on and so many things to keep track of in this game that this aid is essential, not only for playing, but as an aid to teaching the game as well. I not only followed it when teaching the game, I made sure we had one printed out for each player; all of them stated afterward that it should be a requirement for the game.

Speaking of the designer, I’ll close my long-winded observations with a few comments about him. Mr. DiLorenzo has been extremely accessible to answer questions on his game here on BGG. He promptly answered several rules queries I sent him via geekmail, and he’s also been quick to answer posts on several threads. He’s posted several aids and errata files here to further clarify the game rules. It still amazes me how well game designers and publishers support their products as opposed to other industries...



Conclusions
Masters of Venice is one of those games that I expect most people will either love or hate; I fall into the former category. I’ve really enjoyed the game but it’s definitely one that you have to play a time or two before you get the hang of it. I like the multiple paths to victory, the interaction between the players and their actions, and the tension as there never seems to be enough actions/cubes/stocks/orders to do what you need to do. I’ve kind of wondered at the lack of buzz for this game as it seems to be the kind of heavyweight economic Euro-game that usually fares well here on BGG. I just recently noticed that the latest podcast from Garrett’s Games & Geekiness covers this game so maybe it’ll start to get more notice...

That being said, this game is not for everybody; if you don’t like economic or complex games, if you don’t like games with a highly competitive nature, and if you have an aversion to "fiddliness" (i.e., the pegging), you’ll want to avoid this one. However, if you like meaty economic games with highly interactive mechanisms, as well as stock/commodity manipulation in a somewhat cutthroat atmosphere, this could be the game for you. But remember, if you don’t care for it after the first play, I’d recommend giving it another go before you discount it; it just might grow on you. I currently rate Masters of Venice a Venetian 9...

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John Hilla
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Nice review, Mitch ... I'm definitely intrigued!
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Robert Kuster
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Thanks for the review, I picked up the game but have yet to play it so this post has shed some light on it's mechanics and gameplay. I look forward to our first game and from reading the rules I am sure I'll enjoy it as well.

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Kendahl Johnson
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Nice review. After five rounds on my first play, I was less than impressed with this game. But right after that, things clicked. Now I think it truly is a great game. There is a lot going on and a lot to explore.

One comment on the fiddliness. I think it's not just the constant pegging and unpegging. Being the banker in this game would be a nightmare. Money is constantly flying around the table. Players are buying and selling cubes and stocks. Players owning stock shares get dividends when someone sells cubes at the shops. Players get dividends when they own shares of the shipping yards and players use the ship yards. ALso, tax collector gets a dividend any time a dividend is given.

However, money is pretty important in this game and the ability to make it several ways, and to affect the ability of your opponents to make it (unexplored so far) makes this game great.
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Joe
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otha62 wrote:
In our last game, pegging went without a hitch and seems to becoming second nature to us now.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

surprise
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Zack Stackurski
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I love almost all games, play Boardgames with my wife, have three kids, generally enjoy cats and understand and like those bumper stickers with the little fishies sprouting legs.
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Great detailed review! I've been keeping an eye on this since the contest and your review confirms this would be a great fit for my local group.
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Chris Ferejohn
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dedbob wrote:
otha62 wrote:
In our last game, pegging went without a hitch and seems to becoming second nature to us now.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

surprise


Also: Glisters?

Thanks for the review! Definitely intrigued!
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Kendahl Johnson
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cferejohn wrote:
dedbob wrote:
otha62 wrote:
In our last game, pegging went without a hitch and seems to becoming second nature to us now.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

surprise


Also: Glisters?

Thanks for the review! Definitely intrigued!


I actually wanted to give Mitch a hard time about "glisters" until I looked it up. It's actually a word and means how it sounds in this context...
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Kendahl Johnson
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dedbob wrote:
otha62 wrote:
In our last game, pegging went without a hitch and seems to becoming second nature to us now.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

surprise


gross gulp
 
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Chris Ferejohn
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Well shut my mouth. The origin of the phrase is Merchant of Venice where the word was, in fact, "glisters".

http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/all-glisters-gold
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Mitch Willis
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cferejohn wrote:
Well shut my mouth. The origin of the phrase is Merchant of Venice where the word was, in fact, "glisters".

http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/all-glisters-gold


Yep, you found the source...we performed that play in my high school Shakespeare class...I played the part of Shylock...I'd never heard of "glisters" before that...in fact, I haven't heard it since then either...
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Mitch Willis
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kendahlj wrote:
dedbob wrote:
otha62 wrote:
In our last game, pegging went without a hitch and seems to becoming second nature to us now.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

surprise


gross gulp


Well...uh...never heard of that interpretation before...I must lead a sheltered life...I hope every one could discern what I intended it to mean any way...
 
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Mitch Willis
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tonguepaste wrote:
Nice review, Mitch ... I'm definitely intrigued!


roberious wrote:
Thanks for the review, I picked up the game but have yet to play it so this post has shed some light on it's mechanics and gameplay. I look forward to our first game and from reading the rules I am sure I'll enjoy it as well.


ZackStack wrote:
Great detailed review! I've been keeping an eye on this since the contest and your review confirms this would be a great fit for my local group.


cferejohn wrote:
Thanks for the review! Definitely intrigued!


Thanks guys, I appreciate it. I hope the intrigue lives up to y'all's expectations. Taking a peek at your profiles and seeing the games y'all prefer, I'm guessing it will. Just don't forget about that player aid if/when you play...while I've seen a lot of very useful aids for games here on BGG, this is the closest I've seen to being a mandatory accessory to playing/teaching a game...

One thing I should probably add...while I think MOV should probably play well with 2 or 3 players, one bonus to playing with 4 or 5 is that there's more people to help with moving the pegs on the shop board. We found it easiest to have each person to be in charge of at least one shop board, irregardless of the majority stockholder...it seems quicker and more efficient that way and doesn't put too much of a burden on 1 or 2 players...
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Mitch Willis
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kendahlj wrote:
...being the banker in this game would be a nightmare. Money is constantly flying around the table.


I agree, the banker is the busiest job in the game...I think the designer made a wise production decision in using coins (round punch-out counters) though...if this game had paper money, it would be much more of a hassle and you'd have to break out the poker chips...
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